Esther Chou

Title
Program Experience Manager
Esther Chou originally hails from San Francisco, but she has lived in South Africa, Zambia, and most recently moved from Boston where she worked in the social enterprise and international education sector. Esther has led over 400 students abroad to work on social enterprise programs in Belize, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and South Africa. She holds a B.A. in International Affairs & Economics, certificate in Business Administration from Northeastern University, and is currently completing her M.S. in Nonprofit Management.

What position do you hold at Global Citizen Year and why do you like working there?

Esther: As the Program Experience Manager I’m responsible for curriculum development, monitoring and evaluation, parent communications, and US training. I love working at Global Citizen Year because I work with a passionate, committed, purposeful team that believes in our mission.

What I appreciate most about our organization is that we are truly committed to access and diversity. About 80% of our Fellows receive some kind of financial aid and our cohort is diverse (socioeconomically, geographically, racially) in the truest sense.

Did you take a gap year? If so, where and what inspired you to go?

Esther: I landed in Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa, working at a home for children impacted by HIV/AIDS. In high school, I was singularly focused on being a doctor. I volunteered at hospitals, went to science camp at Stanford, and read books on infectious disease. I was interested in South Africa because the HIV/AIDS epidemic was at its height then.

Going to South Africa on my own was challenging, scary, and exhilarating, but mostly, I felt lost. I longed for mentorship, community and meaning. I came home questioning medical school, and more interested in the root cause of inequity in all forms.

My “gap” year shaped my course in college and in life. If I were 18 again, and ready to embark on a journey to see the world, I would endeavor to take a Global Citizen Year rather than a traditional or solo “gap” year.

How does going on a gap year with Global Citizen Year prepare young people for college?

Esther: I focus on program quality and impact, so I’m excited to geek out about how a Global Citizen Year prepares young people for college and the world. Here’s the challenge:

  • 1/3 of college freshmen don’t return for a second year and only 50% graduate in 6 years.
  • 22% of Americans have a passport and only 9% speak a second language.
  • 90% of employers believe that colleges are not fully preparing students for our global economy.

Our results:

  • 99% of our Fellows are enrolled in college and on track to graduate on time.
  • 96% of our Fellows come out of their year fluent in a critical language.
  • 97% believe the global skills they developed during their Global Citizen Year have helped them succeed academically, professionally, and/or personally.
  • 99% state Global Citizen Year changed how they see their role in the world.

What is one common misconception about taking a gap year?

Esther: It’s not a year off, it’s a year ON. Many people think a gap year is a privilege for wealthy kids. Others think a gap year program is a remedial option for kids who are "off-track". Our mission is to reframe the traditional gap year as a Bridge Year. With Global Citizen Year you aren't falling into a 'gap'; instead you are crossing the bridge that will launch you from one life stage to the next. Let's stop calling it a gap year; and start calling it a bridge year.

With Global Citizen Year you aren't falling into a 'gap'; instead you are crossing the bridge that will launch you from one life stage to the next. Let's stop calling it a gap year; and start calling it a bridge year.